Simon and Freda Thornton ARCHITECTS
Rammed Earth Manse - Uniting Church RICHMOND
When Simon took on the job of designing a new Manse for the Uniting Church in Richmond in Melbourne he was confronted with a thick printed document setting out all the ways in which the building had to comply with goals for environmental sustainability. But this was not a problem because the guidelines fitted with his usual way of designing.
As a two-storey house was needed, the problem arose of how to get thermal mass at the upper level without the expense of a suspended concrete slab. Having completed a rammed earth house at Strath Creek, Simon saw no reason not to use this material for the internal walls. It would certainly be a first for this inner-suburban neighbourhood!
The parish was host to a large Fijian community which raised the possibility that the architecture could reflect this. On the other hand any direct reference to Fijian architecture would have been unconvincing. The problem was solved by a design which makes reference to the kind of hand-shaped objects produced by all traditional cultures which have not become industrialised. The east façade has two windows which can be read as lotus flowers or bishop's hats, while the whole façade looks like a giant shrunken head. The brick patterns of the north and south walls are similar to patterns found in weaving.
The glass in the front door is shaped like a vesica pisces, and ancient fertility symbol appropriated by the early Christian church. The heavy timbers of the pergola allude to the devices used by the Romans to keep troublemakers out of circulation. The colour scheme is based on a painting 'The Nativity' by Gaughin which locates its topic in the 'paradise' of Tahiti where he lived.
There are many questions raised in considering the role of Western nations in intervening in traditional island societies. This house does not answer them, but is an attempt to move a step closer to attributing value evenly between the cultures of coloniser and colonised, and has been well-received by the parishioners.